Thursday, June 09, 2016

Pave Paradise, Put Up A Parking Lot

When Joni Mitchell wrote "Big Yellow Taxi" the world had yet to acquire the environment. It was there right enough but it was regarded with less than due deference. Among the limited cadres of the environmentally aware, who were to form an expeditionary eco-warrior force that Friends of the Earth (founded 1969) and others were to convert into a full-scale army, were the acid heads of Los Angeles' Laurel Canyon.

Joni, one of those residents, penned "Big Yellow Taxi", she has explained, when she saw a vast parking lot edging its way towards green mountains in Hawaii. "It broke my heart, this blight on paradise." Though arguably not one of her finer compositions, the song, courtesy of commercial success and its undisguised sentiment, probably helped to tune environmental perception as well as anything else had up to the point that it was released in 1970.

The line about paving paradise and putting up a parking lot had an alliterative power that spoke of the absurdity of condemning the environment to the voracious appetite of not only the automobile industry. It seems like a world away now, a time when nary a second thought was given to concreting and tarmacking over Mother Nature in order to allow the consumer society to park its car. The line, though, still makes abundant sense. It has survived as a form of eco-slogan, one current in the present.

There is a great deal of talk about cars, their movement and their parking in Mallorca. Cars are the present-day manifestation of Balearisation, the uncontrolled development of the coasts that paved dunes and put up hotel blocks. While hotels continue to attract the ire of the contemporary eco-sound political class in Mallorca (such as Més, the eco-nationalists), cars have been manoeuvred onto the environmentalist front line. Barely a day passes without cars and their associated needs, notably parking, making the news.

Let's consider some cases in point from the paradise island. Cars are to be banned from Palma's old town (unless they belong to residents). Cars being brought to the island by tourists or car-hire firms may or may not be subject to a tax. Cars are to be found creating hazards because of their parking on roads leading to unspoiled beaches (so unspoiled that people go to them in their droves and so therefore in their cars). Cars, because of their pollutant effect, are the reason for considering a  special environmental tax on large retail outlets; the car parks are so massive that they form pollution blackspots (or maybe hotspots). Cars, on account of pedestrianisation schemes, are, ironically, being deterred from entering the front line, such as in Puerto Pollensa. Cars are not to be parked (Son Serra de Marina) because they block the view. Cars, back in Palma, are to be eased away from the Paseo Marítimo by removing some parking and some lanes. This is part of the calming of traffic in Palma. The paradise island, also dubbed the island of calm by the Catalonian artist Santiago Rusiñol many a long year ago, is to retrieve a little piece of calm.

The regional government is working on a grand scheme to promote alternatives to cars. Buses, in other words. You might have encountered some of those, the ones which appear to be on unfamiliar terms with the maintenance and service departments. But not all. Some of them are even brand spanking new. And the government would need there to be a great deal of brand spanking new ones if its grand plan is to make any sense: not, one suspects, that it will do.

There is no harm in attempting to alter travel habits, but is the government aware of just how great car ownership is in Mallorca? You would have to assume that it is. Even members of the government have cars and some of them will probably have families whose combined car ownership equates to a small fleet.

The implied demon in all this car talk isn't the local resident, despite his three or four vehicles, it is the visitor and the devil's work of car-hire companies not registered for tax on the island. But it isn't typically a bunch of tourists clogging up approach roads to unspoiled beaches. It's the ones who live here, who, even if there were such a thing as a bus service to unspoiled beaches, wouldn't use it anyway.

But buses need somewhere to park as well, just as they need roads, while the  public transport alternative can always fall foul of other eco-interests. Take the rail extension to Alcudia. They could never agree on it because of the competing environmental arguments regarding the proposed routes.

Pave paradise. Parking lots. They wouldn't have given it much thought back when Joni wrote the song. Mallorca hadn't really acquired wealth then. It soon did, and it needed somewhere to park it.

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